The Goldilocks Zone

As someone who’s never made an audiobook before, I obviously have a lot to learn. In case you’re like me and also thinking of turning your book into something people might want to listen to – people such as long-distance truck drivers, passengers on long-haul flights, the visually impaired, and, let’s not forget, those who find reading a real challenge for whatever reason – I’m happy to share the story so far.

Recent blogs on this site have already documented the actual narration/recording process, but a few weeks back I finally reached the stage where all the files (you will invariably have one file per chapter, plus extras for intro, outro and sample) were completed. I ended up with 53 files totalling 11 hours and 23 minutes, but being mp3 audio files they weren’t particularly large – usually between 15 and 25 megabytes each. The actual recording and post-production time together was around 25 hours.

For some reason I still can’t fathom, I left it very late in the piece to research upload and marketing options; probably because I was concentrating on getting the actual recordings finished – that’s my excuse anyway and I’m sticking to it.

So it was only after I’d finished all the recording sessions that I seriously started looking at who I was going to be uploading my precious audiobook with, and I discovered there really aren’t that many options.

One of the first to show up on Google was ACX (for Audiobook Creation Exchange) which is owned by Audible, which in turn is owned by Amazon. Another contender is Author’s Republic, not owned by Amazon, and promising fewer restrictions and a wider sales landscape.

Then there’s Scribl, and Podiobooks, though as I was researching, Scribl consumed Podiobooks and is presently digesting them. Scribl appealed to me in particular because they promote a democratic platform for achieving a realistic retail price for your audiobook, called CrowdPricing. In short, your book starts off being free through Scribl, but the more people who download it and the better the reviews, the higher the price goes. It’s a classic supply-and-demand scenario, and I would have been happy to go with it.

But I had already instructed my sound engineer to post-produce the files to the tech-specs for ACX and Author’s Republic, which were compatible with each other. I thought they'd be okay for Scribl too, but I was wrong. Anyway, having read some reviews and feedback on online forums I'd decided not to commit to an exclusive deal with ACX/Audible because I would have been tied into it for seven years, whereas if you go non-exclusive you are free from that sort of constraint.

The quid pro quo is, of course, that if you go non-exclusive you get a lesser return on each unit sold, but you also have the option of selling your audiobook through your own website, and reaching agreements with other audiobook distributors to widen your chances of sales success.

It took a while to complete all the online paperwork for ACX and Author’s Republic (including tax details), followed by a couple of long evenings while I watched my files slowly upload one by one. This turgid period, during which I was losing the will to live, is more likely down to our dreadful broadband speed at home (listening TalkTalk?) rather than the platforms I was uploading to, but it worked in the end.

ACX confirmed successful upload immediately and told me their outlets would now have to accept the quality of the audiobook before sales could commence, and that I could expect to wait between 30 and 60 days. As it happened they emailed just a couple of days later to say that my audiobook was now for sale and I could just sit back and watch the money roll in. Yeah, right, we’ll see.

In the meantime I’ve heard nothing from Author’s Republic other than that my submission was successfully uploaded. They said: ‘Your book will then be in review for acceptance by each distributor you requested. It can take anywhere from a week to 60 days to appear for sale, depending on the platform. Keep an eye out by visiting the distributor sites and searching for your title!’

So Author’s Republic aren’t even going to tell me when it’s for sale – I have to go looking for it on the online audiobookshelves myself. Hmph.

And then there was Scribl. I'd already tried uploading my audiobook chapters, intro and outro and sample, but each time I did I was told the files were rejected due to, well, all sorts of reasons. The intro was five seconds too long (they only allow one minute, whereas the other two platforms were more generous), there were problems with stereo/mono, there were problems with audio levels. See the image below for why I felt it wasn’t going to work with Scribl.

I was annoyed by this because it seemed that ACX and Author’s Republic were happy with my files and tech specs, which fitted into the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ of being not too loud and not too quiet; just right in fact. But when I asked my sound engineer how we could make the files compatible with Scribl he said it would be another two to three hours’ work, which I of course would be paying for. However, I didn’t feel inclined to spend another penny on the project as it had already taken longer than I expected and cost more than I’d budgeted.

Grumpily I Tweeted about Scribl’s tech specs not helping budding audiobook publishers, and within 24 hours had received a long email from Colin, one of their people who had been alerted to my Tweet. He was concerned, he said, to hear that my files weren’t compatible as (he assured me) Scribl’s tech specs were indeed compatible with ACX/Audible.

I won’t go into the subsequent email correspondence, which is ongoing, but I did send him the screen grab you saw above, and he did admit that obviously there were some issues, but to give him his due he is doing his best to sort them out. He says he can’t understand why my files are so low in volume and have been accepted by ACX and Author’s Republic, but he and a Scribl tech are examining three sample chapters right now.

I hope they can reach some positive conclusions so that I can also publish with Scribl because I do like the idea of CrowdPricing. Let the people speak!

I’ll post more as further developments occur.

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